The Two Newest Foodies Gems in Plaza Coba
If you are a foodie in Playa del Carmen, you can’t help but have noticed that the variety of gastronomic experiences and the level of the dining options has increased significantly over the past few years. Of course, Mexican cuisine is well represented in this region. It is celebrated and honored all over our city in its many forms, from the very basic comida corrida and street vendor offerings to world class Mexican fine dining experiences. However, over the past decade, because of its diverse demographic, attracting restaurateurs and chefs from all over the world, hundreds of restaurants have sprung up offering an enormous variety of different cuisines from many different countries and cultures.
While 5th Avenue and downtown Playa del Carmen is still the first place most visitors go to look for the best Mexican and international food the Riviera Maya has to offer. Some of the most interesting new restaurants are popping up outside of centro in areas that the average tourist might never find. Some of the new foodie hotspots can be found in the plazas along the airport access road that separates downtown Playa from Playacar.
If you haven't visited Plaza Coba yet, it is time for you to go take a look and investigate its panoply of delightful restaurants. In this one tiny plaza alone, one can choose from Italian, Japanese, French and even Australian cuisine with more options coming every day!
Two of the most recent restaurant additions in this plaza really captured our attention and that of our friends and fellow foodies. We visited these two new culinary gems in Plaza Coba and interviewed the owners of Sundowner Yacht Club and Arthumus.
Sundowner Yacht Club – Owner Heathe St. Claire
Q. Heathe, when did you open Sundowner Yacht Club?
A. We opened officially August 29th but we did 2 weeks of "family and friends" and a big opening party on the 17th August and a week of free mixology classes with our beverage manager from NYC.
Q. Speaking of New York City, can you tell us about your restaurants in the Big Apple?
A. We have 2 brands in NYC, Burke and Wills which is a modern Australian bistro and the Manhattan Cricket Club which is an old world cocktail club. Both have been operating for 5 years.
Q. What is your background in restaurant industry? And where and when did your passion for food & restaurants started?
A. I grew up in a restaurant family working with my father at a young age. I always had a restaurant job through school to pay the bills and made sure I always worked with exciting chefs in both Australia and NYC. In 2003 I opened my first restaurant in NYC which became 4 over the next decade.
Q. What is your Playa story? (Why did you choose Playa del Carmen to open your restaurant)
A. In 2012 Hurricane Sandy brought my burgeoning restaurant empire to its knees washing 2 away over night. I had become hooked on diving a few years earlier and had always dreamed of escaping NYC to follow this passion. Through disaster came a new life, we rebranded and rebuilt the restaurants we have now and in June 2014 My wife and my dog Jack jumped in the jeep and took a long joyous drive to Playa Del Carmen. I had no intention of opening a restaurant at this time but after living here for 3 years felt there was something missing in the market.
Q. How would you describe your menu and your restaurant?
A. We are a fresh seafood restaurant, although not an official motto I do live by the idea that if it isn’t fresh then I am not going to serve it. I designed it very much like an NYC neighborhood restaurant which is exactly what I hope it will become for the locals of Playa. A restaurant that is not catering to the one time holiday diner. A place where you come to eat and every time the consistency and quality is the same. With the yacht club theme we will be offering memberships to our regular guests which will mean priority seating VIP member parties discounts and rewards. Being an Australian restaurant we always get asked what is Australian cuisine and after nearly 20 years the answer is always the same. We are too young a country to have our own culinary identity and cuisine so we borrow from all the great cuisines from the large and diverse immigrants that have landed on our shores. Being a continent the size of Northern America with a tiny population means the bounties of the ocean and land are plentiful and always the best. We like to let the food do the talking and keep our dishes simple with hints of flavors to accentuate rather than overbear. Here in Playa we are fortunate to have some great suppliers from the West Coast and are enjoying working with the local fishermen.
One of my Happy Hour favorites... Crab cake!
Fish & Chips
Q. Can you tell us a little bit about your chef?
A. Our menu is a collaboration between our kitchen in NYC and Chef de Cuisine Hugo Garcia. Because we have a great reputation in NYC it is vital that we continue and maintain this tradition of excellence here in Playa. I work closely with Chef Hugo and you’ll find me most nights visiting tables and serving to make sure this happens.
Q. How do you see the growth of gastronomy/restaurants/cuisines in Playa del Carmen?
A. I am excited to see what is happening in Playa right now there is so much exciting stuff going on now. Arthumus next to us is a fantastic place. I visited YumYum yesterday which I have been eagerly waiting for. I have other friends opening places which I can’t wait for. The more the better I say I like to eat out 3-4 times a week so the more choices the better!
Sundowner Yacht Club really became for me and for the BuyPlaya family one of our favorite spots for an incredible culinary experience, great ambiance, fabulous cocktails. The high quality and consistency of the service and of the menu, make this restaurant one of the best in town. Their Happy Hour Menu, from 4pm to 8pm offers a special selection of great cocktails AND incredible oysters for only 20 pesos each! The unique ambiance will bring a different feeling to your cocktail & dinner time, a city-chic-feeling for a fabulous night in paradise.
Fabulous Happy Hour cocktails...
Heathe St-Clair, owner
Heathe's father Aldo, chef and restaurateur, who inspired Heathe who grew up and had to work, which meant a lot of time spent in the restaurant after school with his dad.
Arthumus – Owners: Ana Paula Portilla and David Poinas
Q. Hi Paula, can you tell us a little bit about your and your husband's background in the world of gastronomy.
A. My husband David Poinas has worked for over 15 years in restaurants in Paris, and his passion for food started when he was a child in his grandparents garden and garden. He also worked in one of the most famous wine bars in Paris, in front of the "Bon Marché" and the Hotel Lutetia, where Milan Kundera or John Malkovich would go for drink and talk with David. He also worked in hospitality in Europe at Selmun Palace in Malta for example.
Q. Why did you both decided to open a restaurant in Playa del Carmen?
A. Because we wanted to offer a French food option, slowfood, with healthy ingredients above all, everything made from scratch, fresh and healthy products (some restaurants buy everything already made ready to fry for example and we did not want to follow that trend)
Q. Why choose Playa del Carmen to live and start your business?
A. My husband David came 12 years ago and fell in love with the region. To be honest it was the time it took to convince me (Paula) to come and install us here. But the situation in Europe helped a lot in my decision, and even when the cultural palette in Quintana Roo is very small, openness and multiculturalism are opportunities and a richness. In addition, this is a natural paradise, enviable climate, bright sun, postcard beaches ... No exhibitions at the Grand Palais, or Galleries in Paris, but with sun, sea and my daughters happy ... We are happy here.
Q. How do you see the growth of gastronomy in Playa and the Riviera Maya?
A. It is growing a lot and in a good sense we believe. We need more organic places and a culture of the product, but we believe that we can push for this to happen.
Q. Can you tell us about your menu?
A. Our menu is of French tradition but with local and organic products. This is very important for us. Our menu proposes food for different diets in such a way that the peace between vegetarians, vegans and omnivores can reign at the same table. We also want to share French and European culture where homemade bread, cheese and wine are intertwined, where desserts and dishes make you travel. Our motto is "Do apéro and not war".
Q. How would you describe your restaurant?
A. Our restaurant is a cozy place, where the origin of the ingredients is in sight, comfortable chairs, an open space, we mix culture with nature, food and permaculture, a European lifestyle without forgetting that we are in this beautiful country, supporting local producers, artists, thinkers, Mexican entrepreneurs. At night the space transforms into a romantic restaurant where you can dine elegantly although in flip flops. And the wine bar like in Paris welcomes you.
Q. Tell us about the different activities organized in Arthumus, and also how you support the local community with your own projects.
A. Our main thread is "ARTHUMUS TRIES TO INSPIRE, WHERE THINGS AND PEOPLE CIRCULATE, ALWAYS WITH A HIGH AESTHETIC, ECOLOGICAL AND HUMAN LEVEL." We have 3 events per month, one for culture and art (with exhibitions, readings, lectures), another for ecology and health (such as the Superfood Festival, or the Maize Men's Conference, for example) and the third axis is the French gastronomy and its culture (like the Beaujolais Nouveau with live music, the Fondue Savoyarde, etc ...). We also support the community not only by supporting its local producers, but for example with the Camas Project (which still stands) where we collect super bags that would normally end up in the garbage or worse, in the sea, and we weave beds for the benefit of the victims of earthquakes (especially Jocultla and Juchitan). Arthumus is a holistic, ecological, gastronomic, cultural and artistic project.
Q. Paula, I know you are an artist, could you please tell us about your story and how you see art in our city-by-the-beach?
A. When I came to Playa I knew that the artistic scene was practically non-existent, perhaps in comparison with my artistic career in Europe. I felt a great sacrifice to come here (I can not deny it), but soon I realized that my workshop can be anywhere, and that the art is obviously for everyone, not only for those who have access to the traditional centers of art in New York, Paris or Mexico City, where there is already a great artistic network of great quality. To have this in Playa del Carmen you have to create it. And this is exactly what I want to push.
A city with more inhabitants than many cities in the world deserves museums, renowned artists, multiply efforts and above all support live artists.
Q. Let's talk about the organic wines, and also about the organic products you have for sale in Arthumus.
A. Almost everything in Arthumus is organic and if they do not have the certification (because it is expensive) it is from ranches of bio-dynamic and verified agriculture. When it is not organic it is of excellent quality and flavor, and it is because there is not yet the bio option here. We are part of Slowfood International. Our place has solar panels for the production of energy, our bathrooms are ecological. We separate the garbage and recycle the glass personally (our glasses are made by hand from recycled glass) We do not use napkins or disposable towels, obviously we do not offer straw ... in short. We do everything we can to preserve the environment. Our wine cellar comes from France, Spain, USA and Australia. The wines have different certifications such as AB, Eurobio or AgriEco.
Voilà! Another jewel in Plaza Coba that makes us so happy and delighted! We love the unique concept and freshness, the French flavor and the bio wines! Their commitment to the local community and to the environment, their love for art and culture, and above all, their passion makes us want to go every day and support their culinary dream.
Paula and David Poinas, owners
New and really interesting restaurants keep popping up all over Playa del Carmen, and some in unexpected places. We will continue to keep our eyes open for more of these out-of-the-way spots so that you will never miss out on a new and noteworthy dining experience. In the meantime, be sure to take the time to visit these two fantastic hidden gems that are sure to make your list of the best restaurants in Playa del Carmen!